As the modern game industry keeps making and adopting the “live service” model for most, “big” AAA games, I’ve found it harder and harder to talk about them consistently or, in some cases, passionately; even as I write this, Massive Entertainment, the studio behind The Division franchise, have come out with news about a paid expansion that seemingly answers a lot of the complaints the community had about the end game of The Division 2. So, how do you talk about a game like The Division 2? Do you just review it when it comes out with what you have in your hands, and then never talk about it again? Do you come back to it once in a while, just to check on it and see if anything is fixed/changed? For me, it’s gotten increasingly hard to even finish these games, let alone become invested in them enough to care about ‘end game’ changes and balance fixes; I never even talked about multiplayer in Gears 5, Destiny 2 and my time with it, or try to talk about Warframe again since I touched upon it a few years back. For The Division 2, I’ve decided that instead of talking about multiple features that would age this article, to just talk about the one thing I especially enjoy about it, and hopefully that won’t change as time passes on.
Obviously, after 30+ hours with the game, there’s tons of features that I really like within The Division 2; the satisfying weapons, the combat and AI that always challenge the player, the visual fidelity and detail of DC, the impressive weather effects on the visuals and gameplay, the finely tuned balance of weapon types/skills and different types of enemies that force you to prioritize and adapt according to the enemies you face at any given moment. But what impressed me the most and why I keep coming back is that all of those features are easily made redundant in the first 15 hours of a game if there’s no progression or rewards tied to doing them over and over again. The Division 2’s biggest accomplishment is that it makes each second worthwhile, both with short-term and long-term rewards and progression; as I am level 23 out of 30, this is not taking into consideration the end-game, which is a completely different facet of the game (and one being revamped in the new paid expansion, so probably left a lot to be desired). For the main campaign, there are tons of systems layered on top of each other to make each activity the player partakes in worth their while, both in short-term and long-term progression; you have the exciting main missions that provide cinematic sandbox moments of gameplay and set-pieces; you have side missions that are surprisingly deep and meaningful towards progression; you have control points in each segment of the map that provide resources and supply rooms that restock each day with new loot; you have “filler” activities like target practice and supply drops that are dynamic events for some extra XP and loot; finally, you have settlement upgrades, projects, and the base of operations, to reflect the progress you make in a tangible, physical place, as well as make the previously mentioned “filler” content meaningful towards your progression. Obviously, there’s a ton of stuff to do in post-apocalyptic DC, and there’s a ton of resources to collect; you have e-credits for buying loot, crafting material for…crafting, resources for control points, XP for leveling up, mods for your gear and skills that improve the base stats of your character/loot, blueprints for crafting loot that are re-usable and scale with each level. TL; DR there’s a ton of stuff to do and tons of ways to get rewarded for doing said stuff.
That aspect on its own is not what makes The Division 2 so rewarding; lots of games have different activities and currencies to reward players and make the time spent with those games seem worthwhile. The differences with The Division 2 though are the most fascinating aspects of that game. For starters, The Division 2 feels very different from most other Ubisoft games in that the map of DC is not cluttered with meaningless icons; it gets busy, but all of those icons are worthwhile and contribute meaningfully to your progression. Furthermore, most of those icons are not ‘filler’ content to populate the game’s map; main missions, side missions, and control points are all designed and directed activities, while the ‘filler’ activities are dynamic events that randomly pop up in specific areas, which help keep the majority of your playthrough feel significant in your overall progression. It’s a lot easier to feel like you are progressing when you’re doing named missions, in pre-determined locations, with specific events that play out as envisioned by designers, rather than doing the same missions again and again, or doing procedurally generated ones just to grind; to be fair, this seems like something reserved for the end game, but I’m mostly interested in the campaign so I don’t really mind that, and if I’m going to proceed with the end game then I won’t mind going through that repetition, because I was already invested in my character by how the campaign was structured.
However, I knew I wanted to talk about this aspect of the game when I found myself logging into the game for 20 minutes just to fast travel around the control points I had gained control over and loot the supply rooms with those restocked loot containers; I just don’t do that with any game, so to get me to log into an online game for 20 minutes is seriously impressing. The way they achieve this is pretty simple though; they build all these rewarding systems around a single feature: The gameplay and combat loops. I usually prefer a decent short-to-mid range weapon and a devastating long-range weapon in most games that allow for more than one weapon, but in The Division 2, I switched me gameplay style so much, I can’t tell you what my most used style is currently. I’ll give you an example: For a lot of the game, I didn’t really consider the side weapon as part of my options, because they seemed really weak, but then I found a side shotgun that had more damage stats than any of my primary weapons. This prompted me to rethink my strategy; I used that shotgun as a short-range option, an assault rifle that had some capabilities in short-range (but mostly was lethal in mid), and a sniper rifle for long range. After a couple of hours, I found a legendary shotgun that I wanted to use, so I equipped that and an LMG, alongside a pistol and was far more aggressive in my approach to combat encounters. This ability to adapt and change your style is not limited to just weapons; I use the turret skill when I have a sniper rifle (to keep short and mid-range enemies busy while I aim for the long-range ones), but I use the shield when I have a shotgun, so I can be more aggressive. Also, I loved how the game ‘allowed’ me to switch styles based on my preferences and not because it ‘forced’ me – which is weird, because I mostly lament the opposite of that! But, almost all activities will challenge your skills to deal with every element of the game (ammo management, enemy prioritization, etc.), yet the game allows you to have multiple tools at your disposal to deal with those situations as you see fit; long-range enemies can be dealt with a sniper or pushing towards them and throwing a grenade, or even flanking them through a more considered approach. So, changing your style is not a necessity per say, but it is seamless and satisfying enough, that I don’t see any reason to stick to one style anyway.
But, even when you don’t feel like changing your style, or preferring to use a specific set up, or the drops are not that good, I still found those 20 minutes worthwhile; I could donate that loot for projects that would help me progress that side of the game; I could dismantle it and use the materials gained to craft something I wanted; I could sell it and just buy something from the vendors; I could save it for later and use it to complement a different change in my loadout/style.
By the way, this is just covering a specific component of the game; I didn’t even begin to cover how surprisingly addictive and good the gameplay is, the dark zone feature, the visuals, how the game uses real, physical spaces to represent your progress, how much depth there is when the game is played in co-op, or even aspects of the game that I don’t have any experience with yet like competitive multiplayer and the end game. I guess the whole point of this article was to just express how much I enjoy The Division 2 and what a shame it is that more people didn’t buy it to try out its own take on the “looter-shooter” genre; I was surprised and amazed by how much I loved it and still continue to play and experience things, that other games do but don’t hold my attention enough to keep me around so I can try them. The Division 2 may have underperformed for Ubisoft, but since the game is consistently going on sale and with a big paid expansion on the way, I hope people will still give it a shot and give it the wide-spread recognition it so thoroughly deserves.